Coarsegold mare beats the odds, gives birth to rare twin foals

Sister and brother Grace, left, and Will at a week old. The twins were born May 24.
Sister and brother Grace, left, and Will at a week old. The twins were born May 24. Special to Sierra Star

Will and Grace have entered the world, and what an unlikely event it was. Shari Burns, stable master of her Wilton (southeast of Sacramento) ranch, is no stranger to delivering foals. She lost count at 950 or so.

When the mare, Elegant Emma N, owned by Richard and Marlene Thomas of Coarsegold, and bred by Little Steven, owned by Shari and her husband Ferris, began her final pacing around the stall, Shari knew that it wouldn’t be long until her labor would begin.

The fact that Emma began calling out early Wednesday morning, May 24, was a warning sign to her that things may not go as smoothly as she hoped. This was new behavior for her. Emma had birthed twice before and had been induced each time since she carried large foals. She was two weeks past term for this event and was scheduled to be induced the following week.

As Emma lay down on her side to begin her birthing process, Shari was ready with all of her sage experience. It wasn’t long before Shari knew that she was not dealing with a typical delivery.

Things were going wrong fast and Shari quickly contacted her veteran Veterinarian, Dr. Sara Steidl with the dire news. There had been a premature separation of the placenta. When this occurs, it requires quick action to prevent a stillborn or weak foal.

You know what to do

Steidl was 45 minutes away on a routine call. She told Shari, “You know what to do.” Shari knew that she had less than five minutes to try and save this foal’s life. As only one tiny hoof appeared it was apparent that the foal was not positioned correctly.

Shari had to reposition the foal’s other leg and head. When she felt the other hoof and head movement, she knew she was dealing with a viable birth. She guided the foal the rest of the way through the birth canal and with a final contraction the tiny miracle came into the world.

Shari quickly put her years of experience of delivering foals to work. “She is small, but alive,” was all Shari could think. This was this mare’s last foaling and Shari let out a sigh of relief that both the filly and mare had made it through without a tragedy.


Shari left the frail filly to check on the tired mare and was shocked at what she saw.

There was another small hoof protruding from the mare. Shari realized she had another foal on the way and a dire emergency on her hands. As she began again to assist in the birth, she discovered there was no second foot ready to follow.

This foal also was positioned with one foot and the head back. Shari finally felt the other leg. And a nose. Once Shari got the second “surprise” correctly positioned, she let go of its legs, grabbed the head and instantly another miracle of the morning was laying in her arms. This was a colt, slightly larger than his “older” sister.

Shari made an emergency phone call to the vet. “I’m so sorry,” was the vet’s response. She had assumed when Shari had called earlier that the chance of survival was pretty slim.

“You need to come,” Shari responded. “Right away?” The veterinarian was assuming that there was nothing she could do since she was still so far away. “Was it a bad outcome?” “They are doing fine,” Shari said with a smile, even as she knew they were far from out of the woods. “They?” “Emma had twins. We have a colt and a tiny filly.”

“She will probably expire,” the vet warned Shari. “I don’t think so.” Shari had years of experience and an eye for a special animal. This little filly was already standing and suckling, right alongside her brother. Shari guessed that they weighed in at about 38 and 45 pounds, the size of one normal foal at birth.

The vet’s response was filled with amazement and a quick “I’m on my way.” Shari was left with the newest additions to her barn and an intense will to keep them both alive.

Chances of survival slim

The chances of either of the twins and possibly the mother surviving this episode were slim. The percentage of twin pregnancies is only 2-5%, with less than 1% resulting in live births. Mares usually cannot carry twins to full term but miraculously Emma did which upped their chance of survival significantly.

Steidl had examined Emma regularly during the pregnancy, including two ultrasounds, both of which showed only one foal. She had also checked for a heartbeat and only one was detected. There was no reason to suspect a twin pregnancy.

Steidl arrived to find Shari expertly caring for the first set of twins they both will have the privilege of caring for. She knew of the possible complications, including heart problems, lung issues, underdeveloped intestinal tracts, and other myriad of possible health issues. Amazingly both foals appeared to have no complications and passed their first exam with flying colors.

These tiny beauties are lucky that they happened to be at this Wilton barn when it was time for them to join our world.

As for their names: Shari explains quickly. “That was easy. Will ... he has the will to live. And Grace ... she was saved by the grace of God.”

NOTE: For more photos, go to Facebook and type in Twin Foals Will Grace.